Sen. Haugen

Reports last year explained that Senate Transportation Chair Mary Margaret Haugen (D-Camano Island) singlehandedly killed the 2010 transit funding bill in order to keep transit advocates at the table for a 2011 package that would also address highway funding shortfalls.

The parallels to 2007 are strong. STB was founded for the purpose of advocating for the roads and transit package. Some writers thought the road projects were largely HOV lanes and therefore positive; in all cases, we saw that much light rail as a game-changer, essential to move forward at all costs. In the end, that wasn’t enough, as a coalition of environmental groups allied with rail opponents drove the measure to defeat.

In the end, voters (and leaders like Greg Nickels) vindicated the anti position by getting ST2 to the ballot in 2008 and passing it. Some people took away the lesson that compromise of this sort is never necessary. Personally, I think the composition of the electorate in 2008 was an under-appreciated cause of victory. I’d be sorely tempted by another game changer, like a large ST3 package, in exchange for roads.

Unfortunately, there’s little hope of anything so transcendent. Far more likely is a band-aid for Metro’s funding problems. And under those circumstances, there isn’t a lot of road for which transit advocates like me are prepared to vote. Since many highway supporters will also vote against any tax increase, the legislature will need the vote of moderate transit supporters, and should consider certain environmentally friendly features, in rough order of importance:

  • a complete solution to the funding woes of transit agencies around the state;
  • extreme emphasis on HOV and maintenance projects as opposed to general purpose capacity, particularly in areas where transit options are robust;
  • for the highway and ferry portion, near-total reliance on gasoline tax, which helps to correctly price the negative externalities of driving and constitutionally can’t be used for anything else anyway.
  • full funding authority for the transit portion of the deep-bore tunnel plan;
  • accelerated improvements to Amtrak Cascades; and
  • new local funding options for bicycle and pedestrian projects.

Here’s to hoping the urban legislators in Olympia are making clear that these elements are important.

31 Replies to “Editorial: A Transportation Deal”

  1. It doesn’t appear there is any momentum for any kind of ‘deals’ this year in Olympia. Only 3 bills have much effect on transit, some good, some not so good.
    SB5416 limits tolls to only 18th amendment uses.
    HB1536 allows King Co. to impose a temporary $30 car tab to partially fund Metro.
    HB1382 funds Phase 1, to convert HOV to HOT lanes on I-405.

    1. BTW, what’s so magic about $30 car tab taxes. Saying $30 is like waving a red cape in front of Tim Eyman.
      What’s wrong with $19.95 car tabs, or ‘just 2 easy payments of $14.99, plus shipping and handling”

  2. If there is no way to get the 18th amendment repealed, would it be possible to get it amended to apply to “transportation uses” including transit, bike/ped infrastructure, and passenger rail projects?

    Failing even that, would it be possible convince the state that grade crossing improvements and road/rail grade separations are “highway uses”?

    1. We could probably give up a 5% cut in funding for urban areas in return for an exception to the amendment in the urban counties.

    2. Just focus the gas tax on maintenance and HOV/HOT construction. Tolls, at least for now, can be used for “congestion relief” in the form of buses or increased vanpool funding. As light rail expands out, buses can link to it.

      Long term, transit will win a larger portion of the funding pie. The older generation, which is largely auto-centric, is starting to die off. As they lose the ability to drive, they will realize their mistake and may even support transit – I’ve seen this with my dad (83). I don’t see *any* young (<30) folks who are as rabidly anti-transit as my parents' generation.

      Stick to the facts, focus on transit productivity, and keep fighting. Transit *will* improve despite short-term setbacks.

      1. +1. As one of the “young folks” mentioned above, most of the people I know either use public transit or wish they could; some are wishing in vain, because they live too far out, but almost no-one derides transit or urban living with the Normanesque intensity that I get from some of the old (>50) folks.

        I hope this is the last, most viscous gasp of that anti-urban generation. Sadly, their government-funded healthcare may make it a long gasp.

  3. With you on the gas tax. In the ’60s, gas tax was 7.5 cents/gallon and cars got, roughly, 15mpg, thus generating about a half-cent of revenue for each mile driven.

    Advancing those numbers to today’s equivalents would result in a gas tax of about 75 cents/gallon, or about double what it is today.

  4. “And under those circumstances, there isn’t a lot of road for which transit advocates like me are prepared to vote. Since many highway supporters will also vote against any tax increase”

    Hope both sides enjoy this sort of mutually assured destruction.

    1. Srsly?

      Road and Transit was mostly stuff like widening bottlenecks and building HOV lanes in a fairly limited geographical region. It was time limited and addressed to specific aims (whatever their merits). This is about holding statewide transit funding (for regional bodies) hostage over statewide road funding (for a statewide body).

      There are so, so many terrible (or underfunded because the gas tax is too low) road projects in this state.

  5. Sure I’ll vote for road maintenance, but since I’ve just seen what WDOT does with it’s money, the DWT, forget it. It’s transit or nothing from now on.

    1. what are the ‘road solutions’ to the areas congestion/traffic issues??

      how many roads or miles of roads can be made into HOV or similar thing to reduce or improve road use???

      is it enough to keep up with growth in the area??? im guessing that the congestion issue is of prime concern at commute times…maybe around 6 to 7 hours per day…mostly weekday.

      are the roads improvable enough there to better facillitate commutes or do more roads or so called road improvements create near the same issues and new transit facilities, or more??

  6. “Sometimes, the best thing to do is nothing … especially if it is the right sort of nothing.” (bonus points if you can identify the quote)

    Wait Haugen out. She’s retiring soon. Nothing on the table is worth cutting the sort of really bad deal Sen. Haugen would like to force. She’s the extreme right of her caucus on transportation policy. You’ll notice that no other Democrats signed onto SB 5416. Whoever takes over the committee after she retires is automatically going to be better.

    In the meantime, ST1/2 are still moving forward, Pierce County still has enough taxing authority (should the voters approve it) to grow a little, and Bellingham has saved transit in the area of Whatcom County where people who would like to live without a car might have been forced to buy one. The price of gas will keep going up. Transit’s share of trips will keep going up. More pro-transit legislators will get elected in 2012.

    Wait Haugen out. She’s gone in two more years.

    1. This. Frank Chopp may be full of bad ideas but they are well-meaning bad ideas.

      Haugen has no idea. Camano Island probably has greater personal watercraft ridership than transit ridership.

    1. On this note, I’m curious if anyone who reads this blog attended publicola’s debate at Liberty the other night. It would be cool to hear from a STB reader their opinion on the debate.

      BTW, hosting a debate at a location where patrons can imbibe (in quite tasty libations I might add) must have proved interesting…

  7. which helps to correctly price the negative externalities…

    are there positive externalities to driving?? why does a gas-tax for structures for

    designed for things that run on gas correctly price for so-called negative externalities??

    1. There are positive externalities of a few people driving. Emergency responders, people carrying large items (gardeners, construction workers, last-mile delivery vans, people moving furniture), and handicapped people who can’t walk to the bus stop. But it’s hard to think of any positive externality of typical SOV drivers. Especially if you include geographical redesign in the alternative: returning to a “streetcar suburb” model with walkable neighborhoods and a frequent transit stop in every neighborhood. Even a small P&R in every neighborhood would be better than what we have now. (And if people are driving only to the P&R, they may be more willing to buy small cars or motorcycles which take less space to park.)

  8. Whoa, let’s reconsider the revisionist history.

    RTID would have built 182 miles of highway… only 30 miles of which would have been HOV.

    This ratio of HOV to general purpose lanes is bad in absolute terms, and terrible compared to the votes over the last ten years… and those were all statewide. For a puget sound region, 30 out of 182 was a joke.

    1. Of course, like one third of the remaining lane miles was for a single project (the CBH) which WSDOT is building anyway.

      1. Yes.

        It represented the single largest amount of new lane miles in the package, it was actually a TOTALLY NEW road, it (rightly) raised the ire among conservationists due to the fact that it went through a largely undisturbed area of the base, oh and it was added back through some ridiculous backroom haggling after having been initially dropped.

        Almost all of the other new lane miles were widening existing roads – which doesn’t work in the long run, of course but at least an argument can be made for consistency of width on a route – or fixing dangerous intersections or repairing/replacing existing bridges or whatever.

        SR 704 is literally an entirely new road on virgin dirt.

        It killed RTID and WSDOT went ahead with building it. High-five.

  9. It’s hard to overemphasize the transmutive powers of good bus and train service. It allows transportation options, and freedom of movement. Social conglomerations (towns, cities) then can grow in a sustainable manner. I’d love to see more transit funding, as that benefits everyone. Don’t like transit? There are plenty of others outside the Great Northwest who will welcome you – so move already.

    1. Careful there… Who do you think is paying for your transit through their gas and sales taxes?

      Reduced residents leads to Reduced Revenue
      Reduced Revenue leads to Reduced Service
      Reduced Service leads to more SOV’s
      More SOV’s leads to more people who will enjoy the freedoms granted by SOV’s
      More (etc.) leads to less people who will Advocate Transit.
      Reduced advocacy leads to Less Transit
      Less Transit leads to No Transit.

      Sorry to sound like Norman, but there it is.

    2. More people who like transit will move in, especially those who refuse to live anywhere without good transit. I would be hard-pressed to move to Atlanta or Raleigh or Silicon Valley unless I absolutely had to, but I’d be more willing to move to NY or Chicago or Boston or maybe parts of LA. The reason Google opens offices in transit-friendly cities is that’s where its workers want to live.

      Losing die-hard exurban drivers would lose some tax money and commerce, but it would also free us from having to extend as many services to those areas, or suffer the air/water pollution those drivers cause. It would also make it easier to pass transit measures at the ballot.

      1. Google’s headquarters is in Mountain View, CA; the very heart of Silicon Valley. They’ve opened locations all over the globe including Atlanta.

      2. I didn’t know about Atlanta, I was thinking about NY, Chicago, Dublin, and our very own Fremont. Kirkland is kind of Mountain View-ish. My point is that the opened all these other offices because people weren’t willing to move to Mountain View.

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